By Greg Stobart
Manchester United are readying a formal bid to sign Juan Mata this month, with Chelsea prepared to sell the playmaker if they receive an offer worth more than £40 million.
Initial talks have been held between the two clubs over a deal for the Spaniard as United manager David Moyes looks to strengthen his midfield and boost his side’s chances of qualifying for next season’s Champions League.
United are yet to make an official bid, but that is expected to change this week as they sense the opportunity to land Mata, who has found opportunities limited this season and started just 11 of Chelsea’s 22 Premier League matches.
Chelsea want around £45m for the Spain international, who cost £23.5m when he joined from Valencia in 2011, but would have to seriously consider any bid in the region of £40m for a player on the fringes of Jose Mourinho’s team.
Mata is desperate for more playing opportunities in a World Cup year and United are believed to have been given indications that he would be interested in a move to Old Trafford, where he could expect a significant increase on his £70,000-a-week salary.
The 25-year-old has been named Chelsea’s Player of the Year in the last two seasons but Mourinho suggested earlier this month that the ‘door is open’ should Mata seek a transfer away from Stamford Bridge in the January transfer window.
Mata is under contract until 2016 and Chelsea would prefer to evaluate his situation at the end of the season and sell him abroad, with Paris Saint-Germain and Atletico Madrid among the player’s admirers.
But with United no longer considered a direct rival - the champions are currently seventh in the Premier League table, 14 points behind leaders Arsenal - Chelsea are prepared to listen to big offers for the attacking midfielder this month.
It would represent a major coup for Moyes, who is under significant pressure and has yet to bolster his fragile squad in the winter window, despite having around £150m available to spend on new recruits.
In the background, there is also the issue of Chelsea’s long-standing interest in Wayne Rooney, for whom they made two bids last summer.
Rooney has so far declined to open talks with United officials over a new contract and the club fear the striker will again look to force a move at the end of the season, when he will have just one year remaining on his contract.
A deal for Mata could smooth relations between the clubs ahead of any renewed attempt, either in January or the summer, to bring Rooney to Stamford Bridge.
Mourinho has cited Mata’s lack of defensive work as the main reason behind the Spain international’s frequent omission, with Oscar preferred in the No.10 role at Stamford Bridge.